Thursday, 13 March 2014

Elemental errors

Every writer should be prepared to take a step back sometimes, hold their hands up and say "I'm sorry, I was wrong". Some startling information has just come to my attention and I feel compelled to share it. If this misjudgement on my behalf leads to a loss of trust, I understand and I thank those of you who still support me.

Last year I wrote a post about one of my favourite films and how it was almost perfect. Avatar is that film and there was one aspect that saddened me and which I deemed to be a major flaw in the film. This flaw was enough to take away that 5th star from the rating, to knock it off the top of the all time great list. 

Not so ridiculous after all

Therefore now, with much pleasure, I can announce that Avatar has been rerated and is now deemed perfect. Hooray! Yes I know it has giant blue people and floating mountains, but let's move on. Avatar centres on the hunt for unobtainium. That wonderfully named element, that unprecocious and most mature name for an element was previously my focus of distaste. But I now embrace the simplicity and accuracy with which the name came about.

You see, there are already not one but two elements, real elements, that have names as ridiculous as our unobtainium and  I have shamefully only just uncovered this informationfound. These culprits are lanthanum and dysprosium. These two elements, however, escape the derision and ridicule that was focussed on unobtainium simply because they are not English words. Lanthanum comes from the Greek meaning "to be hidden" and dysprosium, also from the Greek, meaning "hard to get".

So why don't we have hiddenium and hardtogetium on the periodic table? Well, quite frankly it's probably because they are stupid names that everyone would laugh at. But why should we laugh? Those names simply describe a property of the elements. Why do scientists feel the need to use fancy obsolete languages to describe the world? Is the universe not grand enough by itself? What's wrong with plain old English? Maybe if the names were in a more common language then it might make the science a little more informative and a little more accessible to the non-Greek speaking community.

Revamp for the shining dawn

Therefore I have decided to revamp a few other elements that would benefit from a new name. Bromine is the first one, named from the Greek for stench (because it smells bad) and so I will henceforth refer to it simply as stinkium. Another that needs changing is technetium. The name sounds quite futuristic, rather technical and that would be because it is radioactive and is not often found naturally. The man-made version has been around for less than 100 years and the name comes from the Greek for artificial. So this element will now be called fake-ium. Finally, there is gold. Yes gold, that most precious of metals has the chemical symbol Au, which is short for aurum (from Latin this time) meaning "shining dawn". So the next time somebody flashes their new jewellery at you just tell them what a nice piece of shinyum they have.

I couldn't end this post without mentioning that sometimes using obscure words and languages can be beneficial to avoid embarrassment. Copper nanotubes really could do with a new name. Although Cu does originally come from the Latin...

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